Laurel Brunner: Green Marks and Ecolabels

There are plenty of organisations offering to sell you an ecolabel of some description. But many of these are self-certified labels that actually have little meaning. Their adjudicators are happy to take your money, but do little to make any real difference to the environmental impact of products and services. It’s only cosmetic and it’s the worst kind of greenwash, because the monies paid are rarely invested into developing the tools to improve environmental impacts. Apart from FSC and PEFC chain of custody certifications for wood based products, there are no sector specific labels for graphics products and services. However the major ecolabels for the most part specify requirements for print.

Most environmental labels share a common origin in that they have been developed in response to a growing concern for the planet. Businesses initially went for green rhetoric in response to consumer concerns for the environmental impact of human activities. Over the years the tsunami of greenwash has abated and environmental awareness is no longer the preserve of hippies and tree-huggers. Mitigating environmental impact is now of widespread and real concern across industrial sectors. But the treehuggers legacy is in part the reason why print is still condemned as being environmentally malign: it produces obvious and visible waste. As recycling has become the norm in developed economies the negative view of print is fading, but the message persists which is why ecolabels are important.

Ecolabels differ in terms of their authority and strength. The most robust of them are offered by members of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN). This is a nonprofit group of environmental organisations from around the world founded in 1994. GEN was set up to promote and develop ecolabelling for products and services, to recognise those which were notably green and sustainable. The organisation has 27 members offering voluntary ecolabelling programmes that address multiple criteria. These programmes are transparent and third-parties do the certifications that allow a company to use a particular ecolabel. The third party certification is what separates GEN ecolabels from the mostly-greenwashing herd, because their ecolabels are not tied to consulting or other services. GEN members include the Blue Angel in Germany and the European Union’s Ecolabel.

We are still some ways away from having dedicated ecolabels for the graphics industry, but we are working on it. In the meantime GEN members offer suitable possibilities.

Laurel Brunner




This article was produced by the Verdigris project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit,Ricoh, Spindrift,  Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

Laurel Brunner

Laurel specialises in digital prepress, digital production and digital printing and is managing director Digital Dots ( She provides international editorial, consulting and educational services to a wide cross section of publishers, manufacturers and industry associations. Laurel also participates several ISO working groups developing standards for the graphics industry and convenes a group responsible for standards relating to the environmental impact of graphics technology, including print media.

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